“You’ve got to be crazy to do that . . . Does it burn your feet? Do the falls hurt?” Barefoot waterskiing, or barefooting, is NOT for the fainthearted. Imagine: you’re being pulled behind a boat going up to 45 mph. . . without waterskis. The falls hurt . . . and your feet CAN literally burn. But if you ask barefooters, the adrenaline rush that comes with it is worth every millisecond.
There’s a bit of controversy over who the first barefoot waterskier was, but we do know that it all started at Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven, FL in 1947. A.G. Hancock, an adventurous teen, was probably the first barefooter, but his buddy, Dick Pope Jr., was the first one to get it documented with a picture. Over the years, it gained in popularity in the UK, New Zealand, and Australia as well, leading to international competitions starting in 1973. These international competitions, known as Barefoot Worlds, were once held each year but now held every two years at various locations around the world. The competition borrows from slalom skiing’s 3-event format of: slalom, trick, and the infamous jump competition, known for being the most dangerous. In fact, many injuries, and even casualties, have resulted in barefoot jumping. David Small of Great Britain holds the title for the longest jump at 98 feet, which he set at Barefoot Nationals in 2010. Aside from Worlds and several countries having their own Nationals, there are currently over 50 different barefooting tournaments every year, some of which also include figure-8 tournaments, such as Footstock in Wisconsin, or Footapalooza in Indiana, and relay racing, such as the Dam to Dam Race in Austin, Texas, or Footin’ the Fox in Illinois.
Keith St. Onge is arguably one of the best barefoot water-skiers on the water today. He has won 18 National Championships and has earned 14 World Champion Gold Medals. However, his competition is fierce; his nemesis-turned-business partner, David Small, has an impressive list of awards attached to his name, as well, and both of them need to keep an eye on up-and-coming 2016 Junior World Champion, Jackson Gerard. Jackson is the favored winner-to-be at this year’s 2018 World Barefoot Competition to be held in Ontario, Canada. When he’s not training or staying ahead of the competition, St. Onge teaches others how to barefoot at his school, the World Barefoot Center, along with David Small, Ben Groen, Swampy Bouchard, and Ashleigh Stebbeings. He also travels in the summer months to coach aspiring barefooters in various clinics across the country.
You don’t have to sign up for a clinic or travel to Winter Haven, FL, to get a quick tutorial on how to barefoot from Keith, however. Loud Interactive and Groupon have partnered together in a brand-new series of action sports videos as part of Groupon’s “Try Something New” campaign. Part of the inspiration for Groupon as a company is to make life less boring— to introduce people to new amazing and fun experiences. What better way than to enlist the help of St. Onge to give a fun tutorial on how to get up on your feet in the water? You can check out the video here. Of course, learning from Keith himself is much better, but this video gives you an excellent idea of what’s involved with the basics of doing this exciting and unique sport.